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READER FEEDBACK: Does regular church attendance contribute to obesity?

A Sunday potluck at the Honolulu Church of Christ in 2005. (File photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Update: Some reader comments with this post made their way into my Inside Story column on “Thou shalt not eat fatty foods?”
Does regular church attendance make you, um, fat?
MSNBC reports:

It might be the potlucks, it might be those long hours sitting in pews, but whatever the cause, a new study presented this week shows a link between religious activity and weight gain.
The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, found that young adults who frequently attended religious activities were far more likely to become obese than those who didn’t.
“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,” says Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Do you buy it or not?
Do we Christians worry as much as we should about our waistlines?
Please feel free to share your reactions — serious or not — and include your full name and congregation in case we decide to quote you.

  • Feedback
    People don’t need any more discouragement from church attendance. 🙂
    Edna Scott Ingram
    March, 25 2011

    In the churches of Christ we associate food with fellowship. We have learned that unlimited food is good, and associate it with pleasure. Church doesn’t make you fat, but it certainly doesn’t encourage thinness, either.
    Tim O’Hearn
    March, 25 2011

    I don’t like what the article may infer…that people shouldn’t attend church..then they won’t get fat. That is false.
    I do agree that potlucks can cause you to eat more and gain weight, if you aren’t careful about what and how much you eat at potlucks.
    Maybe churches could learn to bring healthier foods to potlucks..after all, we are supposed to take care of our bodies. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, aren’t we supposed to take care of them physically as well as spiritually?
    I always thought the scripture about our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit was talking about our physical body. I heard someone recently say that that scripture refers to the body of Christ. Does anyone have any idea what the scripture refers to?
    I think in many cases, for a Christian to be obese is not a good example of caring for your body..(although I realize there are other causes for being overweight than over-eating and lack of exercise).
    I think this article could give some non-Christians another reason for avoiding God or ridiculing the church.
    Jo Turner
    March, 25 2011

    I would have guessed that professors at Northwestern University would know the difference between correlation and causation. Unless, of course, either the professors (or the reporters interviewing them) have an axe to grind.
    Ben Wiles
    March, 25 2011

    I think it’s a different worldview: your value is not determined by your waist size anymore. You’ve realized that the mighty God of the universe loves you just the way you are.
    Debby Sapp
    March, 25 2011

    Let’s offer more church events that are ACTIVE: camping, hiking, biking, walking, running, etc. Some of my favorite church activities in past years have been: prayer and aerobics for women (we met at 6:30 a.m. so we could get to work on time), drama ministry, joining with groups of friends to do 5K walks for various worthy causes (March for Babies, MS Support, Heart Association, YMCA, etc.), teaching at Christian camps, doing yard work for people who are elderly or ill, and other service events where we were ACTIVE. Some of us do not have the temperament to sit around listening to sermons three hours or more per week. We love Jesus, and we want to be out serving, so please strive to be the kind of church that appeals to us, and you will not be a church that encourages people to put on weight!
    Virginia Brannan
    March, 25 2011

    DEFINITELY regular church attendance encourages obesity. Lots of food, little or no admonition to live a healthy lifestyle, acceptance by overweight peers, yeah, I can most assuredly see that trend.
    Jason Goldtrap
    March, 25 2011

    Church attendance has nothing to do with obesity. The preacher breaks the bread of life to us, we partake of the Lord’s Supper. No fat, no sugar, no trans fatty acids, very few carbs. Going out to restaurants afterwards and trying to get our money’s worth causes certain individuals with low metabolic rates to gain weight, not mere church attendance.
    Gary F. Berglund, Sr.
    March, 25 2011

    Going to church doesn’t make you fat any more than going to a restaurant, buffet, or even eating dinner at home. What makes people fat is not being able to control their desires and say “No” – and I am speaking from personal experience. Don’t blame the church for fatness. “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” – James 1:14.
    I find this article offensive on many levels. So, how about this in response: “I wonder if watching MSNBC makes someone a bleeding heart liberal, or were they that way before they watched MSNBC?”
    Chubby Preacher
    March, 25 2011

    There were positives in the article. The idea is that we work on what we are missing. We have focused on only one part of what is said:”Yet another irony is the number of studies suggesting that religion and faith are actually beneficial for health. Recent studies suggest that a “relaxation response” in the brain among people who pray, meditate, or engage in otherwise relaxing activities may alleviate anxiety and stress. Stress is implicated in many illnesses. Other studies suggest an association between church-going and longevity.
    “On the whole being religious has been shown by many studies to be associated with better mental health, lower smoking rates, lower mortality rates and better overall health status,” said Feinstein. “There are a whole lot of things religious people are doing right, but it’s just this specific area where there appears to be room for improvement.”
    Joyce Wells Chadwell
    March, 25 2011

    I wouldn’t get too excited about this research. There have been so many studies about obesity and its causes. Among them, evidence that teens are becoming more obese; mom’s weight during pregnancy predicts daughter’s obesity; junk food moms having junk food babies…it goes on and on. The gist of the study is that young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age as young adults with no religious involvement. The authors caution that their findings should only be taken to mean people with frequent religious involvement are more likely to become obese, and not that they have worse overall health status than those who are non-religious. Having said that consider all the calories used in religious activities, sitting, standing, singing, teaching, preaching, clapping, praying, walking, nodding, rocking, serving, kneeling…cleaning the kitchen, minding the nursery–just think of the good workout you get by praising God!
    Loventrice Farrow
    March, 25 2011

    Young unmarried Christians have an impetus to turn away from sexual sensation. It is not surprising that compensation is sought in culinary sensation.
    March, 26 2011

    For me it does. However, I’ll still always attend!
    Johnny Potts
    March, 26 2011

    This is the devil talking.Make sure you don’t pay attention to such silly suggestions like this.
    James Roden
    March, 26 2011

    No, overweight is generally the result of a lack of self-control or self discipline. Although as a football player on the 1950 Odessa (TX) High School (Bronco’s)I weighed 139 #, as an adult I have learned, after Weight Watchers, all kinds of “Diets”, etc., that it is a day by day, meal by meal exercise in self management. Food, Family and Fellowship are all important for health and happiness. I have learned to focus on the person(s) I am with and not the food. After 78 years of life and 55 years of marriage (Annette is an outstanding cook!) I more fervently ask God for Wisdom.
    Joe Hale
    March, 26 2011

    I hate to say it but I have quit going to potlucks and finger foods after church. Most families don’t have time to cook so they stop at a “fast food” place and pickup food that I would never eat.
    Potlucks have out lived their usefulness. It was a way for farmers that didn’t see each other all week to have a get together. In todays world with cell phones and facebook people can be together all week.
    Jim Wiely
    March, 26 2011

    I don’t believe I’ve heard a lesson on self-discipline in the church, although Proverbs is full of it. Except maybe in the listing of the fruit of the Spirit.
    Could it be that we lack a fruit of the Spirit?
    Although there may be a few exceptions, when you exercise and eat right, you will lose or maintain your weight.
    Those that I personally know that are overweight eat a lot, and they do not exert much effort on a daily basis.
    I have lost weight when I stopped drinking sodas alone and started drinking water.
    We have to stop fooling ourselves.
    We also need to focus on a verse that talked about Jesus growing in the four areas when he was young: Luke 2:52 – Jesus grew in statute/height – physically; wisdom – mentally; favor of God – spiritually; favor of man – socially. We need to balanced in our life.
    You don’t have to do something extraordinary. Just increasing your walking by 10-15 minutes a day until you are walking about 45 minutes three days a week will do a lot for you. Your physical strength affects how much you can do for God.
    Polly Scott
    March, 26 2011

    Obesity is the result of choices made day-to-day, not over-eating once per month at the church potluck, that is physiologically impossible. In light of the Christians desire to be good stewards of God’s money, it is however discouraging that we have such a lack of interest in being good stewards of our bodies – as we are commanded. 100 years ago we were a healthy country (almost no diabetes, 3% cancer rate, heart disease was undocumented), and now they are all three at epidemic levels. Should this not be a red flag for Christians and immediately recognized as a stewardship issue? Obesity dramatically raises the risk for these diseases; do we not have a responsibility to educate ourselves as to why we have become so diseased? Are diseased Christians less productive Christians? Do we even have the right or freedom, as Christians, to stick our heads in the sand and just “live our life” and “eat what we eat?” Many of the “healthy” dietary guidelines recommended by our government (such as eating 6-8 servings of grain daily) are contrary to even the most basic and fundamental scientific principles of health and are contributing to our obesity and disease, but we choose to be largely uneducated of such issues. Unfortunately, there is far more bad information than good and it can be difficult to sort it out, but if done so prayerfully, the truth will prevail.
    March, 26 2011

    Fine. I’ll bring apples next time.
    The religion gene is all about the need to be in a social group. It’s how many humans were able to survive the winter. It’s logical that food and religion go hand in hand. It worked until humans started mass producing food.
    The passage in my Bible says: Thou shall eat less than 1800 calories a day. I know because I wrote it.
    March, 26 2011

    What a bunch of hogwash. Anyone who has ever dealt with numbers or statistics knows how easy it is to manipulate numbers. Attending church does not make people fat. Our American lifestyle (which Americans attending church in America adhere to) is the cause, not attending church. Most “journalists” (use that term losely) are not religious, but humanistic and would love to see all religion outlawed. James (posted above) is right; Satan wants to do everything in his power to turn people away from God.
    March, 26 2011

    I wonder if folks like Chubby Preacher who seem to defend, nay embrace, the gluttony that often happens at church potlucks and other places still feel comfortable with condemning alocholism and smoking from the pulpit. It seems to me that people who abuse food are just as guilty as those who inhale carcinogens or destroy their liver with alcohol. I would think by now that it would be obvious that over-eating and gluttony can kill you and do so much faster than smoking, drugs or alcohol.
    Diabetes, clogged arteries, cardiovascular disease…these things are killing folks in much higher numbers than, for instance, lung cancer, and at much younger ages. Much of this could be prevented with a healthy diet.
    So ask yourselves, preachers… what business do you have condemning smokers, drug users and alcoholics from your pulpit, when you just had to let out your pants another size because you didn’t stop yourself from shoving an extra piece of fried chicken and cake down your gullet at a church potluck? And then you’re proud to be a “Chubby Preacher”??
    March, 26 2011

    Give us who are Christians a break.
    Dot Highberg
    March, 26 2011

    I doubt the credibility of this story in that the ‘researcher’ is a 4th year med student. Could it be that the study is nothing more than a self-justification to not attend a church–any church–of his religious inheritance (if he had one)?
    Carol C
    March, 30 2011

    My doctor told me once that he noticed my weight increase when I was happy. I wasn’t stressed out, I was just enjoying all of life. Maybe what this article is saying is Christians are just happier people when they attend church regularly.
    March, 31 2011

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